Wildcats Tame Tigers With Swift Kick
Under the bright lights at Walt Whitman High School on Tuesday, the Wildcats and Northport Tigers varsity boys soccer teams produced a season’s worth of drama, twists and excitement, in a showdown that was more like a show than a soccer match.
In front of another boisterous crowd, the scene was set for a high intensity match between two rival programs. Even the non-sports fan would have been on the edge of their bleacher seat for this one.
For much of the first half, the midfielders of both squads controlled the action. Both teams had advances stifled by strong defensive plays, including countless through-balls which were cleared to safety. Sophomore Michael Lorello kept composure in heavy traffic all night, leading various fast-break opportunities into Northport territory with brilliant touch. Lorello’s aggressive and intelligent play led to a few powerful, near-miss strikes that sailed over the opposition’s goal late in the first half.
With 15 minutes left in the first half, Darwin Hernandez sent a deep ball into the box which was chased down by two Wildcat forwards. Once settled, it was passed into the box for a one-timer from Oscar Alfaro. Northport’s goalie made an incredible diving save which rebounded straight to speedster Robin Bolanos, who easily put it in the back of the net to give Whitman a momentum-shifting 1-0 lead.
The second half action slowed a bit as fatigue seemed to set in after the furious start. Whitman and Northport continued to struggle to get the ball beyond mid-field for the first 20 minutes of the half.
On what looked like a harmless high-bouncing ball in the Wildcat box turned out to be a major turning point in the match. Northport’s high-energy forward took advantage of the misplayed ball by Whitman’s defender and beat goalkeeper Daniel Zagorski for an easy and crowd-silencing goal.
Northport (2-2; 2-2-2) continued to increase their attack and take advantage of a shocked Whitman team, who seemed to have full control of the game prior to that unexpected goal. With 10 minutes left, the intensity grew on both sides. Physically, the players were taking a beating, fighting for every inch of open space.
Whitman needed a spark, and got one from their catalyst in Bolanos, who took three shots within a 2-minute span, burying the latter for a 2-1 Whitman lead. Every rebound was crossed back into the box by Wildcat midfielders with relentless pressure.
The crowd was on their feet for the remainder of the half. Senior Duglas Garcia took a pretty pass from Bolanos and was robbed by an outstanding Northport goalie, who stopped a goal that would have put the game out of reach.
The Tigers did not let up. Led by a fiery coach and talkative bench, Northport willed their way back into the Wildcats’ zone and tied the game up at 2-2 with five minutes remaining in the match.
Then there was “extra time” – words loved by fans and dreaded by players. For fans, more time equals more soccer and adrenaline rushed entertainment. For players, it’s a one-goal-winner-takes-all format in which one mistake can cost you the game.
The first 10-minute session of extra time was tentatively played, with each team looking to be too perfect with their passes and movements. The second 10-minute session was a different animal. Not only were there shots from both sides that could have won the game, but the intensity from the players shot up dramatically.
Short on time, Whitman made one last and final run. The clock continued to tick down from 30 seconds to 20 seconds, and with 15 seconds left and one last opportunity for a win, Darwin Hernandez drilled a walk-off shot into the top right corner of the net resulting in a wave of white and maroon jerseys rushing onto the field.
It was a jubilant 3-2 win for the Wildcats and a heartbreaking loss for Northport, who continued to come back and tie the game as time was running thin.
Walt Whitman (4-0; 6-0) entered the game ranked No. 14 in the state and will look to build upon their hot start at Bay Shore on Thursday, Sept. 26 at 4:15 p.m. On Monday, Sept 30 at 4 p.m., the Wildcats will take on Central Islip (4-0; 5-0) at home for sole possession of first place in League II.